In nine years as an at-home dad, I have taken my kids to countless grocery stores, hardware stores, doctor’s appointments (mine and theirs), banks, playgrounds, museums, and post offices, all during normal working hours. I often hear, “So it’s daddy’s day! How sweet,” or “It looks like you have a few helpers with you today,” or, “WOW! They are so well-behaved,” shocked that a dad is capable of competently corralling four kids. Or the worst, “Looks like you’re babysitting the kids today.”
I have never asked, but I doubt many moms, working or at home, ever hear these things.
Earlier this week, though, I heard one person’s assumptions about the reasons I would have four kids with me at 3:30 on a cold Tuesday afternoon. The words this clerk at a local grocery store said to me topped all other assumptions anyone else had ever made about me.
After picking up our two older ones from school, I headed over to the grocery store to pick up a few things for dinner and flowers for my wife. She had been having a challenging time at work, and I thought the flowers would help. Yes, I’ll accept the “Husband of the Year” award now.
We picked out a dozen roses and brought the bunch to the florist’s counter to pay for them. The lady behind the counter wondered if it was my wife’s birthday.
“No,” Macy, our 7-year-old said. “She’s traveling.” (My wife actually was in town that day, but because of her travel schedule, the kids never remember when she’s in town and when she isn’t).
“Oh, so she’s in sales,” the woman said.
“Yes,” Macy replied, “She works at ConAgra Foods.”
“Well, it’s sure great that your dad gets to stay home with you,” the florist said.
I was floored.
For the first time in nine years, a stranger seeing me, a dad, with four kids in the middle of the workday assumed I was an at-home dad!
Those of you who are not at-home dads are probably thinking, “Who cares?”
For me, it’s personal validation, for one thing. Hearing a stranger correctly understand who you are gives you a sense of belonging to the larger community. When people assume you’re only babysitting the kids, you feel like you’re doing something wrong; something that a man is not supposed to do. By identifying me as an at-home dad, this cashier made me feel like being an at-home dad was the most normal thing in the world. While I already feel that way about myself, it is reassuring when someone else gets it too.
It also confirms that society is changing its views of parenthood. Trends have been changing. Fathers are becoming more actively involved with their children, according to many studies including the latest Census report showing an increase in fathers as primary caregivers. Despite these facts, many people have held on to “traditional” views on parenting. Assuming I am an at-home dad proves that perceptions of fathers are inching closer to reality.
Finally, it is such a relief to not have to explain myself. It is tiring, even irritating at times, to continually feel like you have to explain, “Yes, I am really taking care of all these kids, and I chose to do this.” If you’ve ever done something outside of the norm, you understand what I mean. Having a conversation with someone without them being utterly confused about who I am is awesome!
I am sure I will still run into people who can’t imagine a father can be more than a babysitter for a few hours, but I now know there are people who don’t think that way. I now know there are people who assume a dad in the grocery store with four kids on a workday afternoon is an at-home parent, and that it is the most normal thing in the world.
If you believe, as I do, that dads are not babysitters, please share and sign this petition asking the Census to stop assuming moms are the “designated parent” and dads are a “childcare arrangement.”
Al Watts is a nine-year veteran at-home dad to four children ages 9, 7, 5, and 3 in Omaha, Nebraska. He is the President of Daddyshome, Inc – The National At-Home Dad Network, writes a weekly blog on a popular mom’s website, Momaha.com and a monthly piece here at Role/Reboot, and is co-editing a book project chronicling the fatherhood revolution titled “Dads Behaving Dadly.”